cover image Black Elk, Lakota Visionary: The Oglala Holy Man and Sioux Tradition

Black Elk, Lakota Visionary: The Oglala Holy Man and Sioux Tradition

Harry Oldmeadow. World Wisdom, $19.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-936597-60-4

Historian Oldmeadow (The Betrayal of Tradition) skillfully considers the legacy of Black Elk (1863–1950), a Lakota holy man who is best known through poet John Neihardt’s 1932 biography Black Elk Speaks. Oldmeadow balances contemporary research with presentations of the debate about the facts of Black Elk’s life and legacy, including his working relationships with non-Native collaborators who documented his words. The bulk concerns three figures: Neihardt, who had a “creative and editorial” role in Black Elk’s biography; scholar Joseph Epes Brown, who wrote about Native American rituals in his 1947 book The Sacred Pipe; and Frithjof Schoen, a scholar and mentor to Brown whose work explores the “polysynthetic animism” of Native American spirituality. Oldmeadow addresses and largely dismisses criticisms in current scholarship about the impact of the non-Native lens, such as the encouragement of the romantic image of the noble savage and the omission, misinterpretation, and misuse of Black Elk’s “dual participation” in Catholicism. For Oldmeadow, despite their own outsider worldviews, much of what was problematic about the collaborators (their connection to publishing houses, their Christian background) ingratiated them to Black Elk, and his descendants who saw the collaborators as colleagues and preservers. Readers interested in Black Elk will find this book an effective synthesis of the scholarship on the mystic’s life. (Apr.)